Kashmir cannot be sidelined: Musharraf
13 March 2004
The News International
ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday said India and Pakistan must bury the past for a prosperous future and called for a just resolution of the core Kashmir dispute to begin a new chapter in their troubled history. 'Kashmir is the central issue that awaits just and durable settlement,' he said, while addressing the 'India Today Conclave' via satellite from Islamabad on the theme of future of Pakistan-India relations. The president said: 'This is a moment of hope and optimism. Let us nurture it carefully and make the process of engagement (between Pakistan and India) irreversible,' he said. 'India and Pakistan must bury the past and chart a new roadmap for peace,' the president said, adding peoples of the two countries desired peace and were fed up of confrontation. Referring to the chequered history of the two countries, he said Pakistan and India have lost half a century in mutual squabbles. 'Lets face it,' he said and recalled the two countries had fought wars, tested nuclear weapons and have remained engaged in hot confrontation making the region 'most dangerous flashpoint in the world'. He said at the centre of this is the spiralling vortex of Pakistan-India animosity that has bedevilled their ties for over half a century. 'If Pakistan and India could settle Kashmir in accordance with aspirations of Kashmiris, a new chapter in our troubled history could begin.' This, he said, was only possible if all parties were sincere in their quest for a just and durable peace through a solution acceptable to all. President Musharraf said he would not speak about the political and legal history of Kashmir as it was well recorded and documented in the archives and resolutions of the United Nations. Emphasising the centrality of the Kashmir dispute, Musharraf said, 'Let's be pragmatic. Let us learn to accept hard facts ... and resolve it (Kashmir issue) in an equitable and honourable manner acceptable to India, Pakistan and Kashmiris.' He alluded to his four-point process whereby talks commence; centrality of Kashmir dispute is accepted; all solutions not acceptable to either of the three parties are taken off the table and of the remaining option the one deemed most feasible and acceptable is chosen. 'I believe nothing could be fairer than that.' President Musharraf said a solution will emerge if all sides were mindful of the problem, 'If all parties specially Kashmiris are given the opportunity to have their due say and are associated with a credible, sincere and serious quest for a final settlement between Pakistan and India.' The president said that the joint statement reached at Islamabad provided a good framework for a relationship of harmony and mutual respect. He said the confidence- building -measures (CBMs) already initiated have generated tremendous goodwill, adding, foreign secretary level talks have further inched the dialogue process forward. 'The composite dialogue scheduled for May-June this year should augur well for our future relationship,' he said. However, the president cautioned; 'There is a simultaneity- linkage between CBMs and the composite dialogue. CBMs cannot outstrip the dialogue process on all substantive issues including Kashmir.' He reiterated that 'Kashmir dispute can never be sidelined or ignored' and stressed the two countries 'must move forward towards its resolution in tandem with CBMs.' He underlined that 'sooner or later Kashmiris must join the peace process on Kashmir to make a solution practicable.' The president, however, cautioned about the extremists on both sides who, he said, would try to derail the process. 'We must not be deterred from our path and be prepared to deal with them with an iron hand. In fact in our own supreme interests, we must negotiate peace boldly as if there are no detracting extremists, and we must also deal with all extremists firmly as if there is no peace initiative.' He assured that Pakistan was determined 'to take two steps forward if India takes one step and chooses to embark on a realistic quest for a just and durable peace with Pakistan, on the basis of sovereign equality.' He said India will find Pakistan sincere and responsive, if it desires genuine improvement in relations. 'We are mindful of the difficulties posed by rigid mindsets. We must persevere.' But he warned if there was no movement towards a solution, everything would slide back to square one. President Musharraf listed a number of benefits, which the two countries would have once there is peace in the region. He said the market size will expand to 1.2 billion (equal to that of China) opening vistas of trading opportunities within the region. The foreign direct investment presently stagnating at $ 3 billion could increase manifold. The natural gas from Iran and Central Asia can become available to the region bringing down energy costs by at least 50 per cent. India may be the maximum gainer. He said the region has a vast treasure of tourist attractions and the two countries could benefit from combined regional tours. President Musharraf said with the reduction in defence expenditure, funds would be made available for social sectors and poverty reduction. Through mutual sports, India and Pakistan could regain the lost glory, in hockey and cricket. He said progress on dialogue towards serious resolution of disputes should set us thinking on other more substantive CBMs. 'Why can't our defence expenditure be cut down? It certainly can. Pakistan is not in an arms race. We maintain a quantified force level based on a perceived threat, and a strategy of minimum deterrence.' President Musharraf said, 'With the enhancement of firepower of weapons we are already reducing the strength of our Army by 50,000. We had kept our defence budget frozen for the past four years. India has to review its own strategy because your defence force levels are not based on threat but on power projection.' He also pointed at the latest multi- billion dollar acquisitions by India and noted the vastly enhanced budgetary allocations to defence. The president, however said 'In any case, Pakistan will remain amenable for mutual, proportional reduction of forces.' He said the present time is ideal for resolution of all disputes and ushering in an era of peace, harmony and prosperity. 'The peoples of our countries want it, the influential business community is eagerly looking forward to it, the media favours it.' He said the leaders on both sides have to be sincere to develop confidence and trust in each other. 'They have to be flexible enough to reach mutually acceptable solutions to previously intractable disputes and bold enough to bulldoze all opposition and risks en route to peace.' Musharraf said, 'We have to show enough maturity to be able to resolve disputes bilaterally within a reasonable time line.' He said 'it is only our failure which then invites third party mediation, facilitation, involvement or encouragement. The US being the sole superpower in a unipolar world has a responsibility for bringing a just peace for our future generations. Their involvement towards resolution of the thorny Kashmir Dispute can be of value if we get stuck ourselves.' The president said, 'as responsible nuclear weapon states, we must demonstrate to the world that we have the courage and conviction to settle our problems in a civilised manner. We must demonstrate the courage and wisdom to write a new chapter of peaceful co-existence and mutually beneficial cooperation.' He said there was distinct warmth in sentiments in Pakistan and India to engage constructively. He said respect for basic principles of inter-state conduct, developing relations based on sovereign equality are the safe and sure foundation within which Pakistan-India relations can thrive and prosper. President Pervez Musharraf said, 'We in Pakistan look forward to sustaining the present positive momentum in our relations with India. This is a moment of hope and optimism. Let us nurture it carefully and make the process of engagement irreversible. Let us draw a balance between the vast opportunities that exist for mutual gain and the hazards of falling back to self-generated hatred and despair.' He said Pakistan and India must lead South Asia to new horizons of economic development. The roadmap delineated for the composite talks must be filled with other pointers and time lines for joint endeavours to resolve differences and disputes. It should not take long to fashion together a roadmap to progress and prosperity, reinforcing and utilizing the talent and genius of our peoples, using our resources optimally. He also shared his global vision with reference to the war on terrorism and the need to address Muslims' concerns with justice. The president also spoke about his vision of 'Enlightened Moderation' to bring peace to the world. He also underlined the role Pakistan was playing in the fight against international terrorism. He said Pakistan was actively fighting against al-Qaeda along its western borders. 'We will not allow al- Qaeda to maintain sanctuaries in Pakistan,' he added. The president later entertained questions from the leading Indians belonging to industry, media, business and different walks of life. Responding to a question about the stress on the centrality of Kashmir dispute in Pak-India ties, Pervez Musharraf said no leader in Pakistan can sideline the Kashmir dispute. This is the reality, he said, adding, the two countries could not move forward on CBMs without making progress on the Kashmir issue. 'We can't sprint on the CBMs while move at a snail's pace on the dialogue process, there has to be simultaneity.' Similarly, he said real progress in trade and economic ties was linked to the settlement of all outstanding issues. To another question he said Pakistani businessmen were capable enough to be competitive with their Indian counterparts. The president said there was tremendous scope for enhancing two-way trade and economic ties but added, there was a need to resolve political disputes. 'We have to remove the environment of suspicion first and move forward to resolve disputes.' Asked about the difference in Agra and Islamabad, he replied Pakistan has now been accepted as a party concerned in the Kashmir dispute. He said there was a deep desire for peace among Pakistanis with India and they wanted a harmonious relationship. He said there were a handful of extremists in Pakistan as there were in India but added, this small minority should not be a hindrance in the way of peace process. He said Pakistan was pursuing the peace process with sincerity and would adhere to the Joint Statement in letter and spirit. He said Sino-India ties could not be compared with Pakistan- India relations as the two countries have fought more than one wars and LoC was a recognised disputed boundary by the United Nations. He, however, made it clear that there was an indigenous freedom struggle being waged in the Indian-held Kashmir. About greater interaction between media of Pakistan and India, he said there was more openness on part of Pakistan in allowing Indian media here. He expressed concern that Indian media was promoting some negative tendencies and asked them to show more maturity and encourage better understanding and closer relations. He said there is democracy in Pakistan, elections have been held and the next elections will be held in 2007. The president said that human rights situation was better in Pakistan as compared to India. Similarly, he said freedom of media and speech was also better in Pakistan than India.